As B.B. Warfield said, “It is true that there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, no express record of the baptism of infants and no passage so stringently implying it that we must infer from them that infants were baptized. If such warrant as this were necessary to justify the usage, we would have to leave it completely unjustified. But the lack of this express warrant is something far short of forbidding the rite; and if the continuity of the church through all ages can be made good, the warrant for infant baptism is not to be sought in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament where the church was instituted and nothing short of an actual forbidding of it in the New Testament would warrant our omitting it now.”
Immediately we Baptists raise our first objection. There is here a serious hermeneutical flaw. How can a distinctively New Testament ordinance have its fullest–nay, its only foundation–in Old Testament Scripture? This is contrary to any just sense of Biblical Theology and against all sound rules of interpretation. To quote Patrick Fairbairn in The Interpretation of Prophecy, “There cannot be a surer canon of interpretation, than that everything which affects the constitution and destiny of the New Testament church has its clearest determination in New Testament Scripture. This canon strikes at the root of many false conclusions and on the principle which has its grand embodiment in popery, which would send the world back to the age of comparative darkness and imperfection for the type of its normal and perfected condition.” If you allow Old Testament examples to alter New Testament principles regarding the church, you have hermeneutically opened the door to Rome’s atrocities. It is upon such rules of interpretation that the priest and the mass have been justified. We find the clearest expression, of that which is normative for the New Covenant’s ordinances, in the New Covenant relation.
Beyond this, there is a theological flaw. It is nothing new for Baptists to adhere to Covenant Theology. They have done so since the Seventeenth Century. We conceive of God’s dealings with man in a covenantal structure. We believe that every covenant made with man since the Fall is unified in its essence. In all ages there has been one rule of life–God’s moral law. God’s standard of righteousness was the same before Moses received the Ten Commandments, and it is the same today. There has been but one way to salvation in all historic covenants since the Fall. The Gospel by which Adam was saved is the same as that by which we are saved. Genesis 3:15 declares a salvation that is wholly of grace through faith in Christ. The basic differences between the covenants of history in these essential matters are those of Biblical Theology. The promises of the Gospel have become more clear with each succeeding age of revelation, though the promises have been identically the same. The moral law has been more fully expounded, though never changed. So we agree about the unity of the covenants recorded in the Bible. But paedobaptists have been negligent in defining the diversity in the administrations of the Covenant of Grace. As dispensationalism has erred when it has failed to see the essential unity of the covenants since the Fall, many serious errors have arisen from a failure to acknowledge diversity in these historic covenants. An example may be seen in the Reformers?failure to distinguish church and state. In the administration under Moses, the church was coextensive with the state. In the administration of Christ, the extent of church and state are not to be thought identical. In the Mosaic economy, magistrates administered the church and prophets made their authority felt in government. In the Christian administration of Grace, a strict sense of the church separate from the state must be maintained. We must define the diversity as well as the unity.
Paedobaptists have unconsciously recognized a difference between the Old Testament and New with respect to the constitution of the church and subjects of their ordinances. In the Old Covenant, adult sons and servants were circumcised, and thus incorporated into the visible church. Now, only the infants of believers are baptized. In the Old, children came to the Passover at a very young age. Now small children are not admitted to the Lord’s Table. Whence this change? When the principle of diversity is formulated, it will exclude infants from the sacrament of baptism. Jeremiah 31:31-34 is pivotal to expressing the diversity of covenant administrations. It is quoted in Hebrews 8 and again in 10 to prove that “Christ is mediator of a better covenant.” There is an emphatic contrast made in verses 31 and 32. The differences are so striking and dramatic that one covenant is called “new” and it is implied that the other is old. The Jews under the Old Covenant were warned that revolutionary changes would be made. The covenant in force was inadequate except to prepare for the New. So surpassing is the glory of the New, that it should lead them to look for the demolition of the Old. The passage suggests two vital distinctions ushered in by the effusion of the Spirit. This effusion made a change in administration possible.
The first difference is found in verse 33 of Jeremiah 31. The Old Covenant was characterized by outward formalism. The New would be marked by inward spiritual life. This is not an absolute distinction but it is a marked contrast. Of course, there was spiritual religion and heart commitment to God in the Old Testament. Abraham’s faith would put ours to shame. We must wonder if any but Christ Himself ever equaled the prayer life of David addressed in the Psalms. Moses spoke to God as face to face. Yet, these are refreshing streams in the midst of Old Testament attention to outward, formal, national religion. There is a mass of outward rules, a history of formal religion, a ponderous identification of church and nation. Relatively little attention is given to inward life. If a man is circumcised, he is counted a Jew. If he is conformed to outward practices, he is called clean and welcome at the ceremonies of worship. Paul tells us that this system of religion was like the strict tutor who tells a child what to do at every turn.
But the New Testament church is come of age. It is, by way of contrast, inward, spiritual and personal. Certainly there is outward formality in the New Covenant, but it is minimal; and the most formal ceremony calls attention to the inward. The New Testament presses personal self-examination everywhere and constantly makes spiritual application of its truths. There is a notable shift to questioning experience of grace at every point.